On Police Reform

Council Member Palmisano's remarks on police reform.

January 2021

I am committed to building a city where every resident feels safe and served by their local government. My role as a policy maker is to make sure every program here at the city is guided by that vision. Public safety services, whether here in Minneapolis or across the nation, have not historically operated that way. Policies and practices rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other ideals embedded in hatred have warped several aspects of the traditional public safety and criminal justice systems.

That is why I am working to transform the way we provide public safety services broadly. Ensuring they are more robust than traditional policing, are built through an equitable lens, tear down practices rooted in hatred, and build transparency and accountability are my top priorities. This is how we build a procedurally just system.

One way I see this vision becoming a reality is by transforming the way we respond to calls for help. Throughout my tenure as a Council Member I have said that when you call for help, you should have a say in what kind of help arrives. I remain committed to that statement and to allocating resources that keep our 911 emergency response times down. I also believe that we need to broaden how we define help and not just rely on police officers to respond to calls that they are not equipped to handle.

I remain a strong advocate of growing our co-responder program, that pairs officers with mental health professionals who respond to mental health crises. I believe expanding programs like this and redirecting non-emergency calls to administrative staff are a great step forward in providing more robust and equitable service.

A few of my public safety priorities that I have worked on:

  • Successfully pushed the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to be one of the earliest police departments to adopt body cameras.
  • Led to the audit that formulated the City’s body-worn camera policy and have worked improve compliance with that policy.
  • Reorganized the City’s Audit Department to advance police accountability, expanding the department’s role in investigating MPD operations and policies – from hiring practices, to off-duty work, to the use of ketamine and more.
  • Rewrote the Police Conduct Oversight Commission ordinance to ensure more rigorous investigations into the MPD.
  • Co-created a workgroup that’s digging into the impact of off-duty work on the City and MPD officers, and the effects of privatizing public safety.
  • Supported hiring more sexual assault investigators so that victim-survivors can see faster results. 
  • Advocate for embedding wellness and mindfulness trainings into how we train our first responders.
  • Advocate for an early intervention system within MPD that identifies problematic practices and behavior in a way that allows us to better educate, train and discipline offers.
  • Advocate for changes to state policies around discipline and arbitration that get in the way of improving accountability for police officers in our city. 

While I have worked to implement oversight and strengthen accountability of police officers, I know that these measures are not enough. They were not enough to protect Justine Ruszczyk Damond, George Floyd, and numerous people of color and Indigenous people in our city who have suffered at the hands of police misconduct. We can and must do better, and I am committed to pushing our city to be better.

From July 21, 2017 City Council meeting

It has been 130 hours since Justine Damond — one of my constituents, and a beloved member of our community — died from a bullet shot by one of our city employees, a Minneapolis police officer. I want to take a moment to reflect on this and to add to the public conversation some of the things I have been hearing from my constituents in the 13th ward.

A few short weeks ago, I stood in the backyard of a constituent. I took a series of questions from those gathered. In the midst of the Yanez trial, one of my constituents asked, “what can you do to make sure an incident like the Philando Castile police shooting doesn’t happen in Minneapolis?”

My response was that Philando very well could have been killed Minneapolis. I also said that, simply put, I couldn’t promise that it could never happen in our city. A few weeks later it did happen. Just a few short blocks from where we stood that day.

Yesterday our police chief said, based on what we know, that Justine Damond should not have died. So essentially, with a few obligatory asterisks, a few caveats, we have all but admitted that even with what little info the BCA has provided one of our police officers wrongfully killed one of my constituents.

Also yesterday, my neighbors held a vigil and march to honor Justine. In attendance was Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile. It was clearly acknowledged last night by everyone in attendance that Justine’s death was not an isolated event. It was beautiful to see our whole city standing up together in solidarity. This is who we are.

It was another of a string of incidents that have happened in the last few years in our city, in our Twin Cities region and around the nation. We should also acknowledge that these incidents — these days euphemistically called “officer involved shootings” — didn’t just start three or four years ago. This has been happening in our city since our founding.

My constituents are not treating this as a single isolated incident. Justine’s family and all of her neighbors clearly understand how all these events are related.

And so we mourn. We release statements. We have press conferences. We give interviews. We post emotional statements on social media.

But it is not enough.

Rallies and vigils and marches — while helpful — are not enough.

Saying we are communicating, when really have very little to actually say, is not enough.

Heartfelt prayers and statements of support — they are important. I know directly that Justine’s fiance and family feel that. But we all know that this is not enough.

Body cameras are not enough.

None of this will turn back the clock and bring back Justine. Or Philando Castille. Or Jamar Clark.

So where do we go from here?

We need to fundamentally change the way police operate in our city. If this means a change in police leadership or change in management structure, then so be it, because we have a systemic problem. We are not setting up officers, that come into this line of work with the best of intentions for success.

We need to completely rethink the way police are trained in the use of force. Their use of force too often is a disproportionate response to the actual danger they face.

Our police have an incredibly difficult job to do but everyone must feel safe reaching out for help and calling 911. People should not fear for their own safety when they call to ask for help for a neighbor in need. People calling the police should not fear for the safety of their family or their pets or fear that they may get deported if they ask for help. Our entire public safety system is dependent on this. And right now, I am hearing from too many people that this trust in our system is not there.

This must change.

I am done with damage control and crisis management.

Day by day I am moving beyond sadness. I am angry. My constituents are angry. Now is time to turn this emotion into action.

I will be pushing for fundamental changes in our police department, from top to bottom, and I ask you, as my colleagues, for you to join me in this effort.

If the current state laws can’t get guilty verdicts when police kill our citizens, we need new laws.

When police are using their guns in a destructive manner, we must rethink our use of force policies.

Yes. We must revamp our body camera policies and technology. Not just so we have recordings of these incidents, but so the cameras themselves act as a deterrent and can build trust in our community.

We must seriously consider whether we need a change in leadership of our police department.

So, in the future, when someone asks you (or me), as they did a few short weeks ago, if this will ever happen again. I want to be able to say that we are doing everything we can to prevent it. And anything less is unacceptable.

The time for talk is done. It is time for action.